Post Academic


Law and Order, Campus Division

Posted in Absurdities by postacademic on February 20, 2011
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"Famous Crimes" by Chordboard (Public Domain)

Here’s another idea to float for Worst Professor Ever’s TV treatment: What about Law and Order, Campus Division?  Check out this Huffington Post slideshow about campus crimes and transgressions, which would probably generate the requisite material to get you through enough episodes as a mid-season replacement–and that’s not even including the Georgetown meth lab and the Columbia incest deal, which didn’t make it on the list, or a “ripped-from-the-headlines” storyline you could embellish from the Wisconsin protests.  We’ve covered at least two items on the HuffPo blotter, U New Mexico phone-sex dominatrix and the CSUN pee-er.  (Speaking of CSUN, what’s going on there, especially with the econ prof’s Thai sex-tourism site?)  What’s interesting is that the HuffPo readers picked a plagiarism case as their top choice, over the more salacious options.

Has Disrespect of Teachers Fueled the Wisconsin Union-Busting Attempt?

PhotobucketAnyone who is a teacher or is close to a teacher is keeping track of the protests erupting in Wisconsin as Governor Scott Walker attempts to gut benefits for state employees and take away collective bargaining rights. If you’ll pardon the pun, something strikes me as odd about Walker’s anger toward the unions.

He thinks teachers are an easy target.

Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages …

Obviously, other non-law enforcement unions are affected, but much of the story has involved the fact that public schools across the state are shut down due to teachers on strike.

Putting straight-up politics aside, why is it that teacher’s unions arouse ire, but police and fire unions tend to escape first-round union attacks? Police and fire departments are vital to our safety. No matter how irate they are about paying taxes, most people don’t want their police and fire department to go on strike. Aren’t teachers valuable to society as well? They are the ones watching kids all day and training them to be productive members of society. So they don’t get the right to negotiate for their wages, while police and fire departments do?

Image from the German Federal Archive, 1982, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Brace Yourself for Student Loan and Pell Grant Changes

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on February 18, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionBoy, oh boy, I hope this kind of nightmare does not come to pass, but the powers-that-be are suggesting making a 15% cut in Pell Grants. That may not sound like much, but a grant is money that doesn’t have to be paid back, and Pell Grants are often lifesavers for those who want to attend college or grad school and can’t afford it.

If this upsets you–and it should–then I recommend calling your friendly neighborhood representative or senator. There is no telling where this could go, but either way, it means that you might be taking out more loans to cover what the grant money used to. Even if you have a good aid package now, remember that you have to reapply every year, and the package will vary depending on the whims of the government.

As always, this post does not intend to discourage anyone from attending graduate school and following a dream. Just a) make sure is is really what you want before you take on student loans and b) prepare to get by on very little when you are a grad student. Take a look at the Wild World of Student Loans for the details.

That’s your student loans coming to get you. Cover of the pulp magazine Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror (October 1932) featuring “The Hunters from Beyond” by Clark Ashton Smith, published by William Clayton. Image Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

More Good Reasons to Slow Down Your Hamster Wheel

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on February 16, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIt’s about time for getting acceptances to grad programs or phone calls about your new job. So this makes it time for a reminder that you shouldn’t wear your workaholic tendencies as a badge of honor.

For hamsters like me, toiling into the wee hours isn’t worth it because a corporate bigwig might sell your company and toss you out on the street on your butt (Exhibit A: The mySpace layoffs). As for academics (and hamsters, too), you’ll never please everyone, so don’t cause yourself grief trying to be perfect. Why?

Because it makes you look desperate. Here’s an oldie but goodie from Penelope Trunk that I came across via Lifehacker:

If you work the most hours you look the most desperate. You shouldn’t look lazy, but don’t be the hardest worker. After all, why do you need to work so much harder than the next person? Are you not as smart? Not as organized? Not as confident in your ability to navigate a non-work world? In many cases all three are true for those who work the hardest.

Ow. These are not pretty words for overachievers like academics and former academics. Academics are workaholics because academia is a meritocracy, right? And those who work the hardest must get ahead. That’s the law … right?

Alas, it is not. Talk to anyone who’s been going to MLA year after year after year.

Listen, you’re going to have to pull overtime hours on occasion. But don’t make it a habit, unless you are one of the handful of individuals who love their work so much that they can’t let it go.

A hamster and a hamster wheel by Dimitar Popovski. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Hot for Robot Teacher?

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on February 14, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOn Valentine’s Day, what could be better than a story about an unusual love … for online teaching? Randall Strauss of the NYT launched an article with a rather provocative comment: “When colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs.”

Strauss goes on to list all the online course options that people can access, such as Academic Earth. Such online course offerings are amazing, and they can work well for those who are extraordinarily tech-savvy and self-motivated. Who can resist learning on a flexible schedule in which we are all taught by R2D2? Dude, break out the ring because someone is proposing to Robot Teacher!

But this romance is going to be rockier than it looks, and Strauss admits as much later in the article. I don’t think robots will take over for professors anytime soon, and not for the reasons you might think. Many anti-robot instructors argue for the importance of human connection when teaching. I’m not entirely convinced of that because I often had my biggest “ah-ha!” moments when reading books in my spare time.

So, what’s the one thing keeping robots from taking professorial jobs? Well … have you seen how most people interact with technology? Think about it. All I need to do is say one word: “Blackboard.” And pop on over to College Misery sometime. Many of their posts involve mishaps that unfold when students attempt to engage with technology.

Image of a 2-XL electronic robot toy by the Mego Corporation by PantheraLeo from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Just How Far Will Banks Go to Collect Student Loan Debt?

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on February 12, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionRemember how I said that it is almost impossible to escape a student loan debt, not even through bankruptcy? A recent news story served as a reminder that banks will go after that money by any means necessary, no matter how vulgar their behavior may be.

Consumerist shared a story about a young woman who passed away from a rare form of cancer and left her student loan debt behind. According to the rules, no one else is responsible for her debt as long as no one else cosigned the loan. No one else did. So, when she passed away, the banks couldn’t go after anyone else for the money. This woman followed the student-loan rules and did not ask her parents to co-sign, so they didn’t have to pay her debts.

But did that stop Wells Fargo from going after her parents for money they didn’t owe? Nope.*

This isn’t a message to avoid Wells Fargo or one specific bank in particular. The name of the bank doesn’t really matter. What matters is that student loans are serious business. This young woman did everything right and had her loans in her name–yet one of the banks still made trouble. Whenever you take on a student loan, know the rules, and let your family know about your financial situation so they are prepared no matter what happens.

*After a local news story and some richly deserved public shaming, Wells Fargo backed it up. When in doubt, call “Seven on Your Side” or your local equivalent. It appears to be almost as effective as calling a lawyer.

Image of $620 in 31 twenty-dollar bills by Merzperson from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

A Ban on Busywork

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on February 11, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionLately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about how exhausted they are. I know how it is. I’m still catching up on all the sleep I lost from recent cross-country trips. I’m still not even sure which state I’m in. But I started thinking about why people get exhausted. Sometimes, you can’t avoid it, but most of the time, you can avoid it by eliminating the biggest scourge in the workplace–busywork, aka, the type of labor others dump on you when you look like you’re not working hard enough. There are ways to work a little smarter. These tips aren’t a cure-all, but they might give you an extra hour of rest each night:

Know what is your job and what isn’t. You shouldn’t be doing people’s work for them, whether they be your colleagues or your students. Remember what Patron Saint Tim Gunn says–some people just want to fail.

Beware excessive time-management timesucks. I love, love, love time management solutions. The best ones stay out of your way, which means that once you set up a system, you can keep using it without revising it.

Remember your primary goals. Your primary goal, as a grad student or professor, is to get published. That’s it. You may need to do work beyond that in order to keep getting paid, but anything that cuts into your writing time is a problem.

Attempt to suppress your guilt. While you want to be a good team player, remember that everyone else needs to step up. Slackers are a problem in both the ivory tower and academia, but you are not their parent, and you shouldn’t cover for them. You’re only hurting yourself. If you don’t meet your primary goal and don’t get a job or a promotion, is the slacker going to let you sleep on her couch? I think not. Even if the slacker is cool with your crashing at her pad, do you really want to? That couch will be filthy.

Look at things from a Hamster perspective. I could write about this, but I’ll save time by pointing to the smarties at Lifehacker. They have a list of tips for how to avoid “fake work” in the Hamster World.

Image of a bee collecting honey from a lavender flower from off2riorob from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Why Do So Many People Think They Can Write? Part Two

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on February 9, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWow. I had no idea that what I thought was a one-off screed would resonate with so many of you. Clearly, a lot of us have dealt with those who think can bust out a novel on the spot. One commenter made the excellent note that people can write, but not all of them can write well.

I thought about the comment again this past weekend. I was on a business trip. Our tasks require an intense amount of teamwork. When it’s not time for me to do my part of the task, which is based in writing and research, I want to pitch in and help out everyone else. I always feel guilty if I’m not pulling my weight.

I was doing the usual and pitching in, but one of my bosses took me aside and gave me advice that I’ve never heard before:

You don’t always have to pitch in. The [other members of the team] are doing what they’re doing because they’re good at it. You can rest so you can keep doing well. Don’t feel guilty–if they need help, they’ll ask for it.

So I took a break and got out of the way. I admit that i felt guilty, but my boss was right. When someone needed help lifting a recliner (long, long story), they asked me.

When it came time for me to do my thing, I was rested and ready. The people I was working with trusted me to do my job, and that was a beautiful feeling. I had the client’s goals, I had my materials, and I was set. That doesn’t mean that other members of the team didn’t give me feedback, but their feedback wasn’t based on the fact that they thought they could write as well as me. Instead, they were offering feedback from their own business perspectives. I freely admit that I don’t agree with all the feedback, but it’s way easier to handle constructive criticism when you know that the person giving the critique obviously thinks you’re capable.

Photo of Herman Mankiewicz, Orson Welles, and John Houseman during the writing of “Citizen Kane,” 1938. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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So Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities, the Next Generation

So William Pannapacker/Thomas H. Benton has created another Xtranormal video describing the tragicomedy that is the Ph.D. process in the humanities, this time capturing the awkward interactions between grad chair and prospective grad student.  In our latest episode, Pannapacker’s grad chair authority figure is back, but, as apropos of academia, our heroine from the original vid has long been chewed up and spit out by the system, replaced by new blood/fresh meat in the form of an incoming grad student.  And it’s good timing for the new YouTube, too, considering how grad school admissions decisions are around the corner.  I know it’s just because the computerized characters are necessarily glitchy, but the virtual cartoon people really capture the eerie nervousness and anxiety of mentor-student relationships, which is only accentuated by the spacey neo-muzak in the background.  Enjoy!

Business Dinners Gone Awry

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on February 7, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionOkay, Bardiac posted on a candidate dinner that involved diaper talk a while ago, but since I’ve been through some Hamster-world business dinners lately, and I felt the need to respond now. When I read the tale, the Hamster inside me spun furiously on its tiny wheel.

The profs, with the exception of Bardiac, who must have impeccable manners, spent all their time talking about their kids. I started imagining what the poor candidate was thinking:

Kids. Kids. Okay. I can swing this topic. What do I tell them about my kid situation? Should I tell them about my kid situation? My advisor never warned me about this. Are they trying to get me to reveal my kid status? Can this be used against me in a court of law?

Wait. This is diaper stuff. And nanny stuff. Nannies? These people can afford nannies? And they advertised that starting salary? I want to go on strike, and I don’t even have the job yet.

Oh, dear. This is intimate stuff. They aren’t making eye contact. Do they even want me to talk? Are they comparing Pampers to Huggies? Do they know I’m here? Have they already decided on a candidate? PANIC! No, no, don’t panic. Am I just a free meal to these people? Are they rubbing it in by talking about their kids’ poop habits?

Ahhh … the polite one just asked me about pedagogy. But … diapers! Poop! Exclusion!

I wonder if I should order another drink.

Okay, maybe the candidate wasn’t thinking all that, but those dining with the candidate should try empathy sometime.

I’m not an academic, so I’ve never been a part of a candidate dinner, but my loved ones have gone through the ritual. I am not the type to turn down a free meal, but I already don’t like the concept because it automatically blurs the line between personal and professional way too early in the game. Shouldn’t coworkers dine together after someone’s been hired, not before? It’s not as if professors are being hired to sell something to bigwigs and their table manners need to be vetted.

More after the jump! Image of Bakersfield Restaurant by Renjishino from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

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